Saturday, 29 August 2015

Parndon Wood & Rye Meads

Parndon Wood & Rye Meads - 12th August 15

Weather: Cloudy with some sunshine. Quite humid.

Bird Total: 33
Plus: Grey Squirrel; Konik Ponies.
Plus: Comma, Common Blue, Green-veined White, Large White, Meadow Brown, Small White, Speckled Wood Butterflies.
Plus: Common Blue damselfly. Brown Hawker, Common Darter, Migrant Hawker dragonflies.
Plus: Ladybird Larvae, 7-spot Ladybird; Bluebottle; Crane Fly; Dark Bush Cricket; Dock Bug; Flesh Fly; Hoverfly; Midge; Pond Skater; Soldier Beetle; Water Boatman.

Parndon Wood Nature Reserve is run by ECCO and can be found on the southern outskirts of Harlow. At around 900 years old it can be termed as 'ancient woodland'. It is also designated as a Special Site for Scientific Interest (SSSI). And it is also my friend Barry's local reserve. He tells me he has been visiting this Reserve since the war. But he won't tell me which war.

It was my first visit today and I felt that it would be very remiss of me not to visit a local NR. So, having been picked up from the Station, we drove the short distance and entered the Reserve just after 11am. A late start because it doesn't open until 11am.

The Reserve has 3 Hides and a Conservation Centre, plus a small Cafe, which I was reliably informed sold Carrot Cake. But not today. You can buy some of their 'Parndon Wood Nature Reserve Honey' which is made on site by their very own bees.

We took a very leisurely and peaceful stroll around the Reserve, stopping off at two of the Hides. Barry had been given the key to open up both Hides. Unfortunately, it was probably the wrong time of the year to visit because we didn't see too much wildlife. On the birding front we could hear the constant yaffle of a Green Woodpecker and the call of a Great Spotted Woodpecker.

A couple of Grey Squirrels entertained us from one of the Hides, while I was delighted to find several Dock Bugs and a couple of Green Shield Bugs, all in various instar stages. We also encountered a few butterflies, several Meadow Browns and plenty of Whites.

After about an hour we had completed the small circuit and stopped off at the Centre again, where Barry the 'Keyholder' handed back the key. It is certainly a lovely Reserve and well worth visiting every season, especially in the Autumn where we should be able to see the Fallow Deer about and maybe even witness the Rut.

From here we decided to drive down and pay an afternoon visit to RSPB Rye Meads. Our target bird here was the Green Sandpiper, which Barry had been reading up on. In the event we managed to spot 4 of them, from the first Hide, the Draper. There was also a lone Little Egret out to our right. Plenty of wildfowl were on show plus a pair of Stock Doves, who were trotting out their marriage vows. Our second visit, on the way back, afforded us a view of at least 4 Common Snipe, a bird I hadn't seen for some time.

We visited 3 other Hides, Gadwall; Tern and Kingfisher. There were only the usual birds on display from the Tern Hide but we did manage to see a lone Common Sandpiper; a few Common Tern and several Lapwing from the Gadwall Hide. From the Kingfisher Hide we immediately spotted the male Kingfisher, sitting on one of the posts. He seemed to inspect one of the nest-holes before flying off.

On the trails we kept a lookout for any odonata, seeing at least one Common Darter; one Brown Hawker and a couple of Migrant Hawkers. Strangely we only saw one, teneral, Common Blue damselfly. We did see a couple of Great Crested Grebes out on the lagoons, a bird I haven't seen here for some years. There was also a Little Grebe seen on the lagoon outside the Gadwall. A lone Teal was spotted from the Draper Hide. Earlier, just after we had entered the Reserve, by the first little pond, we spotted a juvenile Chiffchaff, the only warbler seen all day.

On this same little pond I discovered a few more Dock Bugs, again in various instar stages as well as a lone Dark Bush Cricket. Butterflies included several Speckled Woods, again something I hadn't seen for quite some time. Also seen were a lone Comma and several Green-veined Whites.

We decided to head off just after 3 as Barry had a few chores to do at home, set by 'Er Indoors'! We were going to have our, by now, traditional end-of-day pint at the local but there were only Green King beers to be had. Not our favourite brewery.

A lovely, fairly quiet, day out in the warm, but cloudy skies. Rain and thunderstorms are forecast for the rest of the week.

'Never look for birds of this year in the nests of the last.' Miguel de Cervantes

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Sawbridgeworth Marsh

Sawbridgeworth Marsh - 11th August 2015

Weather: Cloudy and overcast, some sunshine. Humid.

Bird Total: 13
Plus: Brimstone, Green Veined White, Large White, Meadow Brown, Peacock, Small Skipper Butterflies. Snout, Plume Moths.
Plus: Azure, Banded Demoiselle, Blue-tailed, Common Blue damselflies. Common Darter, Migrant Hawker dragonflies.
Plus: 7-spot Ladybird; Bluebottle; Buff-tailed Bumblebee; Crane Fly; Cross Spider; Dark Bush Cricket; Flesh Fly; Forest Bug; Hawthorn Shield Bug; Hoverfly; Midge; Mint Leaf Beetle; Pond Skater.

The weather wasn't forecast to be up to much this week, so Barry and I opted for a couple of hours walk around the Sawbridgeworth Marsh, which is just up the road from me.

It's an SSSI and is a 22 acre marshland nature reserve, which lies in the valley of the River Stort. It consists of ten acres of waterlogged marsh; six acres of peaty meadow sloping up from the marsh to the eastern boundary and a low-lying willow plantation to the south. It has recently had some habitat management work done, with a large digger churning up stretches of ditch, which have either been excavated or cleaned out.

It's all been done for the benefit of the Water Vole and to improve and encourage a variety of wetland life, including dragonflies and damselflies. All under the supervision of my friend and drinking buddy, Andy Sapsford. So, we thought we would pay a visit to see how it all turned out.

One of the 'girls' on the Marsh.
To be honest, both Barry and I thought that the area had been turned into a bit of a quagmire. But, of course, it's early days yet and things need time to settle and grow back. Highland cattle had been let loose on the area, behind wired fences of course. They were being looked after by a big black bull, who I found out later is called 'Callum'. I hear that black is an unusual colour for a Highland, but he certainly looks the part, although very docile thankfully.

It only took us a couple of hours to walk round. Some of the trails hadn't been cleared out properly and we had to fight our way through thick vegetation. But it was a delightful little walk, nonetheless.

There wasn't too much to see on the birding front. We really should have visited 4 or 5 weeks ago, to get the best out of the Reserve. I guess the highlights were a fly-by Kestrel and a Green Woodpecker, which was very vocal for most of our visit.

But I was hoping to see some odonata here. Barry had just purchased a new guide book on them and was keen to see some action. It was a little quiet at first, seeing just a few Blue-tails, but then things started to pick up. We started seeing a few Banded Demoiselles, flighty at first, but when the sun eventually showed they settled down, some of them quite near us.

A few Common Darters appeared later on, then a few Migrant Hawkers. Some Azure and Common Blue damsels also made an appearance.

A Brimstone flew past quickly, halfway through our walk, while we given some good views of Peacock and Small Skipper. Moths were also about today, with Snout being the star spot.

On the insect front the best we spotted were lots of newly-emerged Mint Leaf Beetles and some Bush Crickets.

The only other thing of note to report was that Barry somehow managed to forget his hat again, getting sunburn on his head for his trouble and then he dropped the lid of his water bottle into the stream. It must have been all the excitement!

Amblyptilia acanthadactyla
My pedometer suggested that we had only managed less than a kilometre walk today but apparently it was enough for Barry to suggest a pint at the local. Who was I to argue? And, just arriving home, in the corridor, I spotted one Forest Bug and one Hawthorn Shield Bug, plus a lovely Plume moth. A most unusual sight!

'Gratitude is merely a lively expectation of favours to come.'

Friday, 21 August 2015

Emeralds at Amwell!

Amwell Nature Reserve - 7th August 15

Weather: Cloudy in the morning, sunny in the afternoon.

Bird Total: 33
Plus: Grass Snake; Muntjac (H).
Plus: 7 and 16-spot and Harlequin Ladybird and Larvae; Bluebottle; Flesh Fly; Green Shield Bug; Harvestman Spider; Hornet; Hoverfly; Long-winged Conehead; Mayfly; Midge; Mint Leaf Beetle; Pond Skater; Red-tailed Bumble Bee; Soldier Beetle.
Plus: Comma, Common Blue, Essex Skipper, Gatekeeper, Green-veined White, Holly Blue, Large White, Meadow Brown, Peacock, Small Copper, Small Tortoiseshell, Small White butterflies. Blood Vein moth.
Plus: Banded Demoiselle, Blue-tailed, Common Blue, Emerald, Red-eyed damselflies. Brown Hawker, Common Darter, Migrant Hawker, Ruddy Darter dragonflies.

It was another one of those quiet days, at first, not seeing too much about. So quiet, in fact, that I had thought of heading home early. But, as usual, things picked up later. The weather forecast was wrong, again, saying it would be sunny in the morning, clouding over later in the afternoon. In the event, it was the other way around.

I arrived mid-morning, after a slightly delayed journey. I'd heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker whilst waiting for the train. There were scores of Canada Geese around a few lagoons on the journey down. I could also see a few Great Crested Grebes out on one of the large lakes.

It was cloudy and a bit breezy on the walk upto the Reserve. And, although there were quite a few butterflies about, including a lovely Peacock, there weren't too many insects. A few ladybirds, a lone Soldier Beetle and the odd Harvestman spider. I didn't see any odonata at all.

So, not too much about yet, which was slightly worrying, but there were plenty of people about. Mainly dog-walkers; cyclists and joggers, of course, but the odd family group. If only the clouds would disperse and let the sun out, it would be quite warm.

It was quiet on the birding front, as to be expected. But there was a lone Common Tern, fishing the Canal and I could hear the one-note call of a Chiffchaff.

At the Watchpoint there were a few people present, who mostly gave me a curt nod as I approached. I've noted that most people like to keep themselves to themselves these days.

Apart from the usual suspects out on the lake, I could see a couple of Little Egrets perched up in the trees on the island in front; several Grey Heron; a few more Lapwing spread around; a few Common Terns and a few Great Crested Grebes. There were also quite a lot of very noisy Canada Geese milling around, all honking at each other. I guess nagging is not just a human thing, then.

It seemed very quiet and peaceful, a day not to be toiling in an office or to be stuck in a traffic jam. Somewhere, in fact, to keep the blood pressure under control. No 'Boss' to worry about, either at work or at home.

I wandered down towards the Gladwin Hide, discovering a 4th Instar Green Shield Bug and a couple of sex-crazed Mint Leaf Beetles on the way. I could only find a few dragons along here, Migrant and Brown Hawkers, all busily plying their trade. Or should that be hawking?
Sitting down in the Gladwin Hide and looking out, I could see only several Canada Geese; Moorhens and Coots and a few Pochard. None of whom were particularly active and all of them trying not to get in each others' way. There were a few, distant, Great Crested Grebes. I could also see a third, distant Little Egret in stalk mode and then a noisy Common Tern family flying past. A Green Woodpecker called out and, in fact, did so for most of the rest of the day. But who remained stubbornly hidden. Several butterflies were outside, mainly Whites, but one Peacock, which flew in and landed nearby.

I headed back up the trail, finally seeing a few blue damsels and then the first Common Darter, which was just sitting on the trail in front of me. I had to disturb it to get by and I watched as it flew up, around me and then landed back down behind me, to continue improving its' tan. The sun had briefly appeared, forcing them all out. Then, just before the Watchpoint, I found a pair of Crickets, which I later identified as Long-winged Coneheads. A nice find.

Just before I reached the James Hide, a lone Mayfly flew past, above me, which surprised me a little. But the only things to see outside the Hide itself, was a Migrant Hawker and a Common Darter, which briefly interacted. I hung around for about 15 minutes or so, but nothing else was showing, so I headed off towards the Dragonfly Trail.

At the Twin Lagoons I found some more odonata. On the left-hand lagoon I could see a Migrant Hawker and then lots of blue damsels, including a lone Red-eyed; butterflies, including a Small Tortoiseshell and a Comma plus a family of Reed Warblers in the phragmites opposite, all squawking away and briefly showing themselves.

Moving on to the right-hand lagoon I found absolutely nothing. Possibly because of the presence of a family, who were feeding the Mutes and Coots. I noted that it was white bread. Tut, tut. Then another family turned up, with a pair of dogs which immediately jumped into the water, scattering all the birds and everything else. I soon headed off.

Female Common Blue butterfly
As I continued up the trail, I did note that the lone male Slazenger Sock had finally disappeared. Well, it was looking a bit drab the last time I saw it. The season must be finally over for them.

There was nothing of note at the Bridge, other than a couple of Reed Warblers flitting around below me. But I could hear several Treecreepers around, somewhere close. And, sure enough, a few minutes later, one appeared, in amongst a group of Blue and Great Tits. I could also hear a Buzzard calling high in the sky above.

I entered the Dragonfly Trail and immediately spotted a lone Gatekeeper butterfly. It had clouded over quite badly now, but was still a little humid. There was no one else around and so I had the area to myself.

Just entering the Boardwalk I found a couple of Common Darters, perched up on the wooden handrail, docile enough for a few close-ups. But then, suddenly, the sun poked its' nose out and lots of blues appeared, more Darters, including a conjoined pair and then a lovely Ruddy Darter turned up. One or two Migrant Hawkers joined in. It's amazing what a bit of sunshine can do!

'What a tangled web we weave.'
Another guy showed up and so I headed off towards the river, passing the Orchid Garden. Where I found a Common Blue damsel caught up in a web. When I saw that it was still alive I decided to rescue it and put it on top of one of the wooden posts by the Garden. I tried to free it from the tangled web and then looked at it through my Bins. Amazingly, it wasn't trying to free itself from the web but was actually feeding on a midge. I left soon after, wondering how long it would survive. The damsel that is, not the midge.

Soon after I came across a lovely moth, later identifying it as a Blood Vein. Then I could hear a Muntjac barking somewhere in the forest across the river.

Walking adjacent to the river I found lots of ladybirds, some of them Harlequins. One of which was being chased around the stem by a little fly, which must have been at least a third of the size of the ladybird.

There were lots of Grasshoppers about as I walked, all hopping away as I passed, plus a few more butterflies, including a lovely female Common Blue and another Comma. Then I spotted a fresh-looking Common Darter hiding low-down in the undergrowth. Lots of Soldier Beetles were again around today. This time they all looked to be busy feeding.

Just before I returned to the Boardwalk I spotted a pair of Small Coppers and another Common Blue butterfly. Then a male Banded Demoiselle flew by, not wishing to stop to say hello. It was the only one I saw all day.

I strolled up and down the Boardwalk for a while, looking for any sign of Emeralds. Another guy then appeared and he called me over to point out a Grass Snake swimming past. Then Jenny Sherwen appeared with a colleague. They were here for some pond-dipping practice. I hung around for a little while, to see what they found.

But Jenny must have brought some luck with her, because soon after, I spotted at least 3 Emerald damsels flying around. Unfortunately, none of them flew in close for a photo, but it was great to finally see them this year. More people appeared, including a couple with a pair of dogs. I was glad Jenny was around to see them off. This was the third occasion, recently, that people had brought dogs into the area this year, a trend I hope to see reversed.

While I was looking for more Emeralds, my friend Dave, from Rye Meads, turned up, plus hangover and then Katie Kingfisher's mother. I left them all to it and broke for lunch.

I rejoined Jenny again and when Ade Hall also turned up we went searching for a family of Spotted Flycatchers that had been reported in the area earlier. Unfortunately we failed to see them but we did manage to find a Brown Argus; another Small Copper; another Red-eyed damsel and then an Essex Skipper.

Everyone then seemed to vanish, leaving me to it. So I tried to find the Emeralds one last time before I left. No joy, but just after exiting the Boardwalk I heard, then saw, 2 juvenile Spotted Flycatchers in the trees, occasionally flying out and catching some flies. Always nice to see!

It was all downhill from there. Nothing extra to be seen on the return leg and so I headed for home. On the trail back a lone Grey Wagtail flew in and landed in front of me to say farewell. A lovely end to a great day!

'Always carry a flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite and
furthermore, always carry a small snake.' W. C. Fields

Monday, 17 August 2015

Great Crested Grebe on the River Stort!

River Stort and Thorley Wash Nature Reserve - 4th Aug 15

Weather: Warm, cloudy with a stiff breeze.

Bird Total: 28
Plus: Essex Skipper, Large White, Meadow Brown, Peacock, Ringlet, Small White Butterflies.
Plus: Azure, Banded Demoiselle, Common Blue damselflies. Brown Hawker, Common Darter, Emperor, Migrant Hawker, Ruddy Darter dragonfly.
Plus: 7 and 14-spot Ladybirds; Bluebottle; Dock Bug; Flesh Fly; Hoverfly; Pond Skater; Red-tailed Bumble Bee; Slug; White-tailed Bumble Bee.
Plus: Konik Ponies; Longhorn Cattle; Muntjac; Shrew (dead).

Today I took my good friend and now fellow birder, Barry, for a walk up the River Stort, towards HMWT Thorley Wash. It was my second visit of the year.

Carol from the BBC forecast sun with light clouds in the morning, clouding over completely after lunchtime. So I suggested that we make an early-ish start around 9am.

But it was quite cool, with a stiff wind when we set off and I feared that not too many dragons and damsels would be about. And so it proved, for the early part of the walk at any rate. There were a few butterflies about, mainly Meadow Browns and Whites.

The first thing of note that we latched on to was a Great Spotted Woodpecker, calling, perched on a tree about 30 metres away. At first I thought that it might have been another Lesser, which would have been the third sighting this year. But another bird landed on the tree as well, a Goldfinch, which was considerably smaller than the Woodie.

It wasn't until about 20 minutes into the walk that we spotted our first male Banded Demoiselles. I guess the wind and the cool weather was keeping them under wraps. Then Barry spotted a Buzzard high in the sky. A little further on his, now, keen eye spotted a Kingfisher over the River. It had landed in a tree opposite and I just managed to see it before it flew off.

Just before we continued something caught my eye behind us and when we looked we saw a buck Muntjac bounding across the field. We must have walked right past it. A Grey Heron flew over, following by another. Then a Green Woodpecker sounded off somewhere.

There was already a plethora of dog-walkers.

We reached Tednambury Lock, where we spotted a pair of Greenfinches fly over us. Then we spotted our first Common Blue damsels of the day, now one of Barry's favourites.

We passed a group of 4 Konik Ponies on our right, while a herd of cattle were chewing the cud on our left, over the River. More damsels were seen along this stretch, as well as another Great Spotted Woodpecker, which flew over.

Barry then confirmed that he had indeed got his birding goggles on today, when he spotted a Common Tern fishing along the River. It then flew close to us, where we were given some great views, before dropping down into the water where it caught an unfortunate fish.

Then we came upon an equally unfortunate Shrew, lying dead on the path. I was a bit surprised that nothing had snapped it up.

We continued our walk, setting the world to rights, before eventually arriving at the bridge that would take us into the Reserve. We immediately spotted a few Longhorn cattle, grazing not too far from us. Fortunately, a barb-wire fence separated us.

A quick look from the first bridge, both sides, to look for Water Vole. Unfortunately, 'Ratty' wasn't about today. But we did see a lovely Ringlet butterfly fly in and land close by. We were soon looking down from the second bridge, again not seeing any Water Voles. But we did see a cracking pair of Banded Demoiselles, which were posing quite close in.

We then started on the circular route proper, whereupon we soon spotted a Common Darter; a Brown Hawker and then a Migrant Hawker. In fact, it was quite a fruitful little spot we had found, as more Common Darters were soon spotted and then a couple of Ruddy Darters appeared. Butterflies appeared too, with more Meadow Browns and a few Peacocks.

We reached a wooden bench, which was dedicated to Water Voles and stopped for lunch. A train had been stationary on the track for some time, obviously held up by some calamity. Just before we finished lunch it moved slowly off, followed every minute or so by those held in the queue. It looked a bit like 'Operation Stack'.

Then, just before we continued our walk, Barry yelped and jumped back. A Wasp had crawled into his shirt and had stung him twice! I waved it off and handed him some Aloe Vera. I told him that you hadn't been on a walk in the country unless you had been stung by a wasp! I wanted to take a photo before it flew off, but Barry was already jumping up and down, screaming at me to get rid of it.

We were just coming to the end of the trail in the Reserve, when we spotted an Essex Skipper. Unfortunately, my little camera was playing up and so I failed miserably to get any shots. But we did note that it was very small and had black antennae, two very good diagnostic ID traits.

We exited the Reserve and headed back the way we had come. It had clouded over somewhat by then, but then the clouds and the sun had a bit of a battle and, by the time we had finished our walk, the sun seemed to be winning.

On the return leg we spotted more Common Darters and then several Swallows and House Martins, hawking up and down the River. We were also passed by several more dog-walkers and a couple of Narrowboats.

Then we spotted a few more Banded Demoiselles, on the far side of the River. They were soon put up by an Emperor dragon, which was flying imperiously up and down. A brave but foolish Migrant Hawker appeared but was soon chased off by the Emperor.

Just before we exited the trail Barry spotted a Great Crested Grebe! It was a juvenile and was the first time I had seen a Grebe of any description on the River. Amazing!

I had been busy looking for Demoiselles on our left, along the adjacent stream. I managed to spot several males and a couple of females. The sun had come out again and blue skies were outnumbering the clouds, but unfortunately our walk had come to an end.

We had walked around 7km today and so rewarded ourselves with a pint in the local Railway Pub. A fitting end to a very good walk.

'The citizens of a democracy have a right to be ignorant.
Knowledge only means complicity in guilt.'

Thursday, 13 August 2015

'Awkers at Amwell!

Amwell Nature Reserve - 31st July 15

Weather: Mixture of sun and cloud. Quite warm.

Bird Total: 40
Plus: Bank Vole.
Plus: 7, 12, 16-spot and Harlequin Ladybird and Larvae; Bluebottle; Flesh Fly; Hoverfly; Midge; Mint Leaf Beetle; Pond Skater; Red-tailed Bumble Bee; Soldier Beetle; Thick-kneed Flower Beetle.
Plus: Brimstone, Comma, Gatekeeper, Green-veined White, Holly Blue, Large White, Meadow Brown, Peacock, Small White butterflies. Cinnabar moth caterpillars.
Plus: Banded Demoiselle, Blue-tailed, Common Blue, Red-eyed damselflies. Brown Hawker, Common Darter, Emperor, Migrant Hawker, Ruddy Darter dragonflies.

It was a much better day, weather-wise. Although still too many clouds about for my liking.

The day started well, listening to Blackcap; Chiffchaff and Great Spotted Woodpecker, whilst waiting for the train. And I saw a pair of Great Crested Grebes on the way down. From the train.

Unusually, there were only a few ladybirds to be seen on the trail up to the Reserve. A Common Tern was busy fishing the canal and I could also hear a Green Woodpecker laughing out. Almost at once the flies began buzzing me for some reason and continued to pester me all day. It was also 'Flying Ant' today, culminating in swarms of them later on in the afternoon.

Looking out from the Watchpoint I could see 1 Oystercatcher; 2 Redshank; 1 Common Sandpiper; a few Common Terns and several Lapwing. There were quite a few Peacock and Gatekeeper butterflies on the Buddleia beside me. There were also the usual suspects swimming around the Lake.

There weren't too many people about, Birders anyway. But there were plenty of the usual dog-walkers; cyclists and joggers. I only saw 2 'familiar faces' all day, one on his way home in the morning and the other just before I left.

It was already quite warm, with no breeze. But the clouds were already starting to bunch up and crowd over. 2 Buzzards were high in the sky over Easneye Wood and there were plenty of butterflies on the wing as I headed down to the Gladwin Hide.

I took a quick look out from the lesser watchpoint, seeing nothing new and then proceeded to keep a watch for any Red-eyed damsels on the lilly-pads. In the event I only spotted two, mixed in with plenty of Common Blues. But, just before I reached the Hide, I spotted a couple of dragons. One was a male Migrant Hawker, flying up and down the Canal, patrolling his little patch. The other was a female Brown Hawker, ovipositing on the other side of the Canal.

From the Gladwin Hide the only thing out on the Scrape was Coot City. Plus one juvenile Common Tern, continually calling out for food from the adults that were flying past. It got fed at least twice while I was there. Looking out over the lake I could see 5 Great Crested Grebes; a pair of Grey Herons on the opposite bank and a few Pochard. Surprisingly, there was quite a lot of pollen flying around. I thought that we had seen the last of that for the year.

Then I heard a ruckus out to my right, by the water's edge. The pair of Redshank I had seen earlier had obviously flown down to this area and were being harassed by a pair of Moorhen. I waited in vain to see if they would creep nearer, for a photo.

Then one of the Grey Herons flew over and scared everything off. When the adult Terns returned they couldn't find their youngster anywhere. Just before I left I could see a few Reed Warblers flying around the area.

I walked straight up to the James Hide, finding one other man in there, in the choice seat. But, in fact, it was very quiet, with only a few Great Tits on the nearly empty feeders. There was also a fair bit of noise coming from the upper tier so I decided to head off towards the Dragonfly Trail.

Just outside the Hide I spooked up a Comma butterfly. In fact, I did rather well for lepidoptera today, seeing around 10 species in total.

I reached the Twin Lagoons. On the left-hand lagoon I could see Brown Hawker; Migrant Hawker and Common Darter, together with lots of blues. I also found quite a few Cinnabar Moth caterpillars on their favourite Ragwort. On the right-hand lagoon I managed to get a few photos of a newly-emerged Migrant Hawker, which let me get very close. Another Common Darter and then a Ruddy Darter were equally as obliging. An Emperor was hawking around the lagoon, while another Brown Hawker flew in and landed quite close. I spent a leisurely and pleasant 25 minutes or so here.

But then a very noisy family group arrived, with dogs, so I headed off towards the Dragonfly Trail. I noted that the Slazenger sock was still hanging around, although its' plumage was looking very faded now.

There wasn't anything to see from the Bridge so I moved on to the Trail. It was initially quite good here, with lots of odonata flying around. Unfortunately, there were quite a few people as well. A couple who were tramping up and down the boardwalk, in 'all the gear, no idea' mode, while a fly fisherman decided it would be a good idea to walk past a couple of times, instead of taking another route. There was even a man with a dog, obviously deciding that the 'No Dogs' rule didn't apply to him. Finally, the noisy family had followed me and decided to have a picnic nearby.

Ruddy Darter
With all this mayhem going on I decided to head for the river. Here I found a male Banded Demoiselle, the only one of the day; a lone Brimstone, a few Meadow Brown and more Gatekeeper butterflies; lots of various ladybirds, including Harlequins; a regiment of Soldier Beetles; a lone Thick-kneed Flower Beetle and a pair of mating Mint Leaf Beetles. So, quite a good haul.

Female Common Darter
There were still a few people scaring off everything on the Boardwalk, so I broke for lunch and sat down on the bench furthest away from all the hoo-ha. Whilst having lunch I was entertained by a pair of Great Crested Grebes, with at least one Humbug on the back of one of the parents. Then a Kingfisher flashed past, a whizzing spectacle of blue and orange.

Eventually everyone left me to it and I strolled up and down the Boardwalk in peace. Unfortunately, most of the Odonata had the same opinion as myself and had left too, with only the odd dragon appearing. So I headed off, but not before seeing a Great Spotted Woodpecker fly over.

I sat for 10 minutes in the James Hide, seeing only 'Banksie', the Bank Vole, before heading back to the Watchpoint, where I spotted a lone Little Egret fishing out to the right. Time to head home.

'Today’s subliminal thought is: …..'

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Greedy Grebes at Fishers Green!

Fishers Green, Cheshunt - 30th July, 15

Weather: Cloudy and overcast. Cold and breezy.

Bird Total: 33
Plus: Blue-tailed, Common Blue damselflies; Brown Hawker, Migrant Hawker dragonflies.
Plus: Comma, Gatekeeper, Green-veined White, Holly Blue, Large White, Meadow Brown, Ringlet, Small White butterflies.
Plus: 7-spot Ladybird; Buff-tailed Bumble Bee; Flesh Fly; Hornet; Hoverfly; Midge; Pond Skater; Roesel's bush-cricket; Slug; Soldier Beetle; Wasp Beetle.
Plus: Grey Squirrel; Muntjac.

Today my good friend and drinking buddy, Stuart, accompanied me on a visit to Fishers Green. Unfortunately, we didn't choose a very good day for it. We were promised light cloud and some sunshine in the morning, clouding over in the afternoon. We were also promised that it would be a balmy 17 degrees. But I'm afraid Carol was slightly out in her forecast. After a little bit of sunshine just after we arrived, it soon clouded over badly for most of the rest of the day. It was also a tad chilly.

Nevertheless, Stuart was determined to have a good day out. He was on holiday this week and had a day-pass from home decorating. I was also determined to show him a good time. At Fishers Green.

Catching the usual train we arrived a little before 10. It was already clouding over a bit too much for our liking and the cold breeze made me glad that I had brought my fleece with me. What a contrast to recent events in France!

The cool weather had knock-on effects, of course. We were already prepared for a low bird species count and were going to concentrate on other wildlife, mainly odonata. But the cool weather also put paid to that idea. Although there were a fair few Common Blue damsels about plus a couple of Blue-tails, we only saw 2 species of dragon - a pair of Migrant Hawkers outside the facilities near the Bittern Hide and a lone Brown Hawker looking out from the Bittern Hide. So it was quite disappointing on that front too.

But there were one or two surprises along the way. As is so often the case.

For our first stop we paid a quick visit to the little pond opposite the Lock to see if there were any odonata about, like my last visit. But, alas, there was nothing to be seen. So we moved on, taking a cursory look out over Friday Lake, seeing not a lot other than a juvenile Common Tern.

We then perused the flora outside the Teal Hide and, at first, we didn't a lot here either. But then, getting our eye in, we started to see a few things. First up were a fair few Common Blue damsels, flitting up and around when we walked up close. A few butterflies made an appearance, mainly Meadow Brown and Holly Blue as well as a lovely Ringlet. Then we spotted a pair of Roesel's bush-crickets, side by side. At first, I had thought that they were just the common Dark Bush Cricket's but I could see the diagnostic yellow/green u-shape around the pronotum. I was thrilled, as these were the first ones I had seen.

Looking out from the Teal Hide we could see a hen Pheasant with 2 juveniles out to our left and a family of 3 Muntjac, feeding, out to our right. I noticed that the flora immediately in front of the Hide had been cut back. Then, a few minutes later, we saw a black Pheasant, also out to the right, but closer to the, nearly dried out, lagoon. There not being much else to see, we moved on.

It was a quiet walk around the trails, towards the Bittern Hide. The only thing of note was a Green Woodpecker flying noisily over us, just before we arrived at the spot where the Great Crested Grebe family were. Here we immediately spotted the adults, but with only 1 humbug, on the back of one of the adults. A family of Canada Geese then swam up towards us, probably looking for handouts. But they disturbed the Grebes, who then swam behind the trees.

We headed off and soon arrived at the Bittern Hide. Looking out over the lake only provided the usual suspects. There were only a few Common Terns to be seen, mostly on the rafts. Most of the Black-headed Gull chicks had now grown into juveniles. On the pond in front we could see a Grey Heron imitating a statue, to our right and then a Great Crested Grebe appeared, caught a fish and then swam off. There were a few Reed Warblers flitting around the phragmites. A Migrant Hawker was patrolling the area. The feeders were nearly empty but Great Tits, Blue Tits and a female Chaffinch tried to feed on what was left.

Then a bit of excitement ensued. I heard a woodpecker call out to our left. Then I thought I saw a Great Tit fly down to a lower branch nearby. I looked through my bins and nearly fell off my bench. It wasn't a Great Tit, it was a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker! Unfortunately, it stayed behind some branches and then flew off. But both of us had good views of it. I had seen that someone else had noted one on the sightings board, only a few days ago.

Finally, just before we left, Hornets were flying in and out of the Hide, to a nest in the ceiling above us. Both of us were in the flight path, so we had to move out of their way or risk being buzzed.

Before we hit the trail up to the Grebe Hide, Stuart had to pay a visit to the facilities, but found that they were closed for some reason. At that moment we both spotted a pair of Migrant Hawkers buzzing around us. Eventually one of them settled in a tree above us, enabling an identification.

On the trail we came across a spot where we found plenty of butterflies. Holly Blues, Meadow Browns, Comma and Ringlet were all nectaring on the thistles and dandelions. These were soon joined by Gatekeeper and Green-veined White. We hung around for about 15 minutes trying to photograph them, with Stuart trying out his new camera.

Eventually we arrived at the Weir, where we spotted a Grey Wagtail. Moving on up the trail, I was disappointed not to see any Banded Demoiselles all day. I guess it was just too cold for them.

Looking out from the Grebe Hide we immediately spotted a Great Crested Grebe, with 3 Humbugs, forcing down a huge American Crayfish. It took a few minutes to successfully get it down. More Grebes turned up and there were plenty of other birds about the lake, all the usual suspects.

We headed back, taking the new route I had found, stopping at the pond. But nothing much was seen, with the cloud cover now almost complete. Looking out again from the Bittern Hide afforded us a glimpse of a Brown Hawker. A few people came and went, but we didn't see too many people all day, certainly no other wildlife enthusiasts.

Gatekeeper butterfly
We decided to call it a day and, after taking one more look for the nesting Grebes, headed home just after 5.

'May your home always be too small to hold all your friends.'